Regional fire control centres 'could be scrapped'
Steve DownesA controversial scheme to build new fire control centres, which is already years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of pounds over the original budget, may have to be scrapped, MPs were told yesterday.Steve Downes
A controversial scheme to build new fire control centres, which is already years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of pounds over the original budget, may have to be scrapped, MPs were told yesterday.
The Fire Control project, which aims to replace 46 control centres in England and replace them with nine regional sites, came under fierce criticism by union and local government officials giving evidence to the communities and local government select committee.
In the East of England plans are well under way to shift the fire control rooms of six counties to the outskirts of Cambridge, at a single site that is currently sitting empty.
Cambridgeshire will be the first to move in September 2011, followed by Suffolk two months later and Norfolk, which will relocate from its current base in Hethersett in May 2012.
The nationwide plan was originally drawn up in 2003, but there have been a series of delays and none of the centres have opened.
Brian Coleman of the Local Government Association said whichever party won the forthcoming general election would have to seriously consider 'pulling the plug' on the entire project.
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He criticised the delays and the amount of money spent so far, saying one of the new centres had recently had a �25,000 coffee machine installed even though no-one was working there.
'Politicians have become more and more sceptical as the contract fails to deliver. The delays have been unacceptable. There is no guarantee that the technology will work. Fire authorities are reaching the point where they have no confidence in the project. If the technology doesn't work, there is no choice but to scrap it.'
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), told MPs that the views of professional fire staff were not taken into account when the project was originally drawn up.
He claimed the project was costing taxpayers �40,000 a day even though none of the centres were operational, saying it was 'clearly a waste of public money'.
Mr Coleman added that one centre had 72 CCTV cameras installed.
Fire services minister Shahid Malik admitted the project had not 'started off very well' and had suffered two delays, but he told the committee there was now a date of mid 2011 for the new centres to be operational.
The FBU said the original cost of the project was �100 million but had now snowballed to �1.4 billion.